Saturday, 14 November 2009

Two fine cheeses

One of the lovely things about France is that it's so very big - so much bigger than the Blue Guide ever lets on.

For instance; French cheese. Off the top of my head, I can think of: Camembert and Brie of course, Roquefort with its blue veins, Chavignol, Cabécou, Selles-sur-Cher goat's cheese, Saint-Nectaire, Cantal and Comté, Salers, Mont d'Or, Emmenthal, Tomme de Savoie, Reblochon, and Morbier... but everywhere we go, we seem to find a new cheese.

Take for instance Leclerc in Boulogne-sur-Mer, not best known as a tourist haunt. Taking the ferry back from Norwich beer festival to Les Basses Lisieres, we thought we'd get our shopping done at the port instead of waiting till the next day and going to our local supermarket.

Cue the cheese counter. Remember, this is northern France, no longer Normandy, so things are a bit different - lots of ch'ti cheeses. Maroilles, stinky and soft; mimolette, with its grey outside and bright orange inside, a deeply boring cheese at a month old, very interesting indeed once it's aged for a year and a half.

And Vieux Lille. This is a cheese you could wrap several times in clingfilm, put in a zip-lock bag, heat-seal into a plastic box, and lock in a safe, and you'd still be able to smell it at a hundred yards.

I actually couldn't take it. Me, defeated by a cheese! This simply does not happen.

Then my other half suggested the way to cope. You simply use quite a lot of butter on your bread, then add the cheese. The butter seems to damp down the acrid notes of the cheese while bringing out the more rounded flavours. (As usual, the French have not only wonderful food, but all the little tips and tricks on how to use it.)

Then we found a cheese we had never seen before - Pavé de l'Aa. This might not make it into the top ten French classics, but it was a delightful experience; creamy, slightly hard texture, with fresh nutty smell and slightly lemony taste, all within a soft, white-furred, orange rind.

(The Aa by the way is a little river whose name means 'water' in old Dutch, and is renowned as 'the first river in France' - in the dictionary if nowhere else.)


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